Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Question: when should I hit a writing conference?

At what point should I, as a writer, begin dishing out the big bucks to attend conferences? It seems like, from what I've heard, they're a great place to meet agents and editors and writers I admire.

But I'm pretty far off (at least a year, if I'm being realistic) from querying. Should I wait until I'm further along in my MS to get serious about conference attendance? Or should I start laying that groundwork now?

And, perhaps more importantly, which conferences should I attend? I know about AWP and BEA. What biggies am I missing? And is there a resource for must-attend genre-related conferences (RWA*, CYA*, etc)?

Thanks again, sharko. 

Well, sharko just cracked me up completely, I may change my monogram to that.

Let's make sure you understand what a writing conference IS first, cause AWP* and BEA* ain't.
RWA and CYA are both closer to the mark but a writing conference is more like CrimeBake, or Rocky Mountain Fiction writers Colorado Gold conferencePacific Northwest Writers or Pennwriters (one of my faves!)

These conferences are focused on CRAFT more than the trade side of publishing. There are opportunities to meet and woo agents but generally these conferences offer classes and workshops and panels on how to improve your writing.

And these are the ones you want to hit before you even think of hitting anything else. For starters, you'll find some that are close to home, and for second, they aren't going to cost you an arm and leg. 

As for when to start going to conferences, I'd suggest after you finish your first book. That will be when you're thinking you're ready to query and the conference will give you some ways to analyze whether you are or (more likely) give you a whole bunch of information that makes you rethink that.

Not all conferences are good (the ones listed above are great.)  If you go to one and you hate it, it's not you, it's the conference. Try another. Ask your friends. And going WITH writing friends is a great way to get more than your money's worth from the conference. I know two writing gaggles who do that and it's always impressed me as a very smart approach to things.

*Association of Writing Programs
*Book Expo America
*Romance Writers of America
*Children and Young Adult Writers and Illustrators Conference


Rebekkah Niles said...

I suggest starting with a smaller conference, as they are often both less expensive and offer more one-on-one time for social connections and learning (smaller workshop class sizes). It's much less overwhelming and you end up forming deeper, longer-lasting connections with the people you meet. If you're a romance writer, for example, Moonlight and Magnolias in Georgia is a con I'd recommend. Just be sure to check the schedule beforehand, and make sure your small con has classes that work for your interest (I once went to a local con that I found out only after it began was aimed mostly at poetry and memoir--not my genres. Oops.)

Melissa said...

If you can find a writer's conference close to home, then don't wait until your manuscript is finished. The classes and workshops can be invaluable to everything from outline to query letters. I've learned things I thought were no brainers only to go through and discover my book riddled with common problems.

Conferences aren't guaranteed to get you an agent. If you pitch to one, all it does is guarantee a response. I've heard many agents say they rarely find a client at a conference.

Also conferences like BEA aren't for fledging writers (unless you want free books). It's for buying and selling usually printed books and for agents to shop around their stuff. It's more for a publisher than a writer (I've been as a rep for a publisher).

Juliana Spink Mills said...

I went to my first writer's conference in February (SCBWI). That was where I met the ladies who now form my wonderful critique group. It was worth gold for that alone, and for all the other great people I met there.

Making connections doesn't necessarily mean meeting publishing folk and agents. It also means meeting people just like you, who will become your writing friends and peer support along your journey.

Joyce Tremel said...

Another good conference is Pennwriters. There are many learning opportunities--lots of good panels and classes. Both published and unpublished writers can get a lot out of it. It also attracts a variety of agents and editors (Janet even came one year!). It's always in the middle of May, and alternates between Pittsburgh and Lancaster. The 2015 con will be in Pittsburgh.

Janet Reid said...

Argh! How could I forget to list Pennwriters! Bad me! Fixing at once.

Karen Junker said...

I'd recommend the Cascade Writers conference for folks who write SFF (though other genres are welcome and included)-- it's in the Pacific Northwest. We get agents and editors, there are classes and critiques of your work, also pitches -- but, get this -- it's tiny. You get a chance to network with the pros and not get lost in a sea of hundreds or thousands of other writers.

Baneff18 said...

My question is how important is it to go to writer's conferences? I've read alot online and in some published 'writing' books that insist that if you want to succeed in writing you simply MUST attend conferences, all conferences, all the time. I'm inclined to take this advice with a grain of salt, but it still nags at me when I consider that since I live in northern Alberta it ain't exactly easy to attend one. The nearest one to me I've been able to find is one in Vancouver every year, and that isn't an easy or cheap trip even if I could manage to get away for whatever weekend that falls on. I worry that I'm missing out on some secret success button passed around at these things.

Bill Scott said...

PNWA Conference starts tomorrow. Happy to see it on your list. It'll be my first. Looking to fall back in love with writing again.

SiSi said...

I'm going to Killer Nashville this summer for my first writing conference. I'm not looking to get an agent out of this trip since I know my book isn't quite ready for submission, but I am looking forward to meeting and talking to lots of people and learning as much as I can.

DLM said...

If the midatlantic is convenient, I cannot recommend James River Writers' annual conference highly enough (and I started well before completing my first novel). JRW brings together a wonderful array of writers - poets, screenwriters, novelists, journalists, nonfiction book authors - and is almost solely responsible for my ever getting the idea I could become a published novelist at all. The access to publishing professionals is complete (as long as you are POLITE and reasonable in expectations), and the education is extraordinary.

I've done Pichapalooza there twice, First Pages critiques (these events are not for the faint of heart!), and met wonderful enough agents I could almost shift genres just to try to work with them. And the community is incredible, supportive, dynamic, fascinating.

About the only thing we don't have is Janet.

However, registration is open. Take a look!

Lance said...

I second all of this advice. I haven't attended a large conference, but I have found small conferences to be really helpful in lots of ways. Even the small conference Murder Goes South in Smyrna, GA attracts big city agents. There is developing your craft in classes for one. But equally important is the chance to meet people just like you. I always feel recharged after attending. Hang out in the bar and meet people. Don't be shy, but don't go around hugging people either.

Liz Mallory said...

If you write fantasy or sci-fi, the conference for you is the Pike's Peak Writers' Conference (PPWC). There are very few conf's for speculative writers, but this one, despite being open to all genres, had heavy emphasis on the speculative. I made many friends there, including having some wonderful conversations with (dare I say it) several agents and editors. As in, friendly chatting, not like I'm trying to suck up to them. It was delightful to get to know industry professionals in a small setting on a personal level and see them as people.

Kat Waclawik said...

Hey, this PNW conference looks great--good sessions, interesting presenters, close to home. Sign me up! What? It starts today?! *grumblerumblesnarg*

Well, how about this Cascade Writers conference? SF/F focus, an editor and an agent I would love to meet, critique groups, even better! WHAT? This one also starts TODAY?!?! *kicks desk* *stubs toe* *howls in pathetic agony*

The bright side to this maddening situation is I just spent the last hour putting together a spreadsheet of all the conferences near my new home. Moving on, now better prepared!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold gets better every year, too, with tracks for beginners up to advanced writers.

Christina Seine said...

Kat Waclawik - if you're in the Pacific Northwest, the Willamette Conference doesn't start until Aug 1st. I'm going this year. It's my FIRST conference (I am SO excited, can you tell?) so I can't give you any info on how good it is, but the list of speakers seems very promising to me (as a conference virgin, that means little, I realize). Anyway, just wanted to throw that out there so you're aware of it. :)

Christina Seine said...

OH! *smacks forehead* Also, Kat - the Anchorage one is in September. How could I forget that - I'm in Alaska!

Haven't been to that one either (yet), but I happen to know that certain Awesome Aquatic-themed Agents attend (or at least have attended). :D

Kat Waclawik said...

Thank you, Christina! Two excellent-looking conferences to add to my spreadsheet! Alas, too close to get time off work during the busy time of year, but I really appreciate the info for next year. I'm looking at Write on the Sound in October. Hope your first conference goes swimmingly!

Christina Seine said...

Thanks Kat!

I'll have to look into that one too I think. It's tough to get away, but that's about the time of year I'm really done with being in Alaska. :)

Terri Lynn Coop said...

*Waves to SiSi*

See you at Killer Nashville!

Another smaller con I can recommend is the Midwest Writers Workshop held at Ball State in Muncie Indiana. That was my first con and I wouldn't be where I am right now without it.

And the Houston Con . . . great things happen in Houston.

For me it is enjoyment. For vacation, I'd rather go to a con than to a resort. But I go to work and learn and cadge autographs like a shameless fangirl.

If there are critique or pitching sessions, I consider those practice and a change to make a connection, not get picked up by an agent (although I've seen it at Killer Nashville several times.)

I'll echo the advice of finding a smaller one close to home and going for fun and knowledge.


Abigail said...

I went to PNWA conference a few years ago exactly when I thought I was ready to query and learned so much I ended up rewriting the ms. Despite that, I *loved* going! It was beyond inspiring to be around so many other people who took fiction seriously! (I'm a programmer by day.) Just meeting other writers was worth the three days and the $$ and the vacation time, seriously. It does help that I'm an extravert, but if you're not, find a table where one is sitting and let them introduce themselves. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Depending on where you are, you might also consider the Surrey International Writers Conference ( in Surrey, British Columbia. I've been several times over the years. Great panels and workshops; some of the regulars include Donald Maass, Diana Gabaldon and Hallie Ephron; opportunities to meet successful writers, editors and agents, and other aspiring writers.

Lisa Lawmaster Hess said...

I love the Pennwriters conference and I find that it has something for writers at all levels. Even better, I come home excited and recharged. While editors and agents are important, good conferences have much to offer that goes beyond the business of writing.